Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Confused? So You Should Be

In an Associated Press story widely covered in the world's media it is claimed that the current 'Economic downturn stems dangerous boat migration', to use the title of the piece, especially in Spain. As proof of this the article cites 2 main factors: that unemployment in Spain is running at nearly 18 percent, with the construction and services industries particularly hard-hit, sectors that regularly employed migrants clandestinely; and that "not a single immigrant boat was intercepted off the Canary Islands, the first time that has happened in years".

Yet the same article also states that the number of arrivals dropped from 38,180 in 2006 to just 13,424 last year. Additionally, increased naval patrols mean that the Spanish Coast Guard now believed to intercept 99% of all these boats whilst still on the high seas and migrants can now be sent directly back either to their home country or to the country from which they departed because of a series of new pacts negotiated with West African states.

The article then adds further counter-evidence by saying that a similar dramatic decrease in arrivals in Italy is due to the bilateral deal with Libya that sees the Italian navy returning migrant intercepted in international waters back to Africa without first screening them for asylum claims. Greece is also cited as having had a 25% increase in migrant detentions between 2007 and 2008, although it also mentions the widely publicised slight decrease in numbers of intercepts in April and May (which could just as easily be a statistical abberation).

Another recent report show what Romanian Border Police claim to be a significant increase in the number of people caught in the first half of this year trying to cross into Hungary. According to their figures border guards caught 1,164 people trying to enter Hungary illegally in 2007. Last year, the number was 1,628 and so far this year there are said to have been about 800 people arrested.

Now is it just me or is this yet another case of the facts not supporting the conclusions, of lazy journalism and official spin making a mountain out of a molehill? About 800 people in 6 months if continued at the same rate would mean about 1,628 in a year i.e. neither an increase nor a decrease.

Interestingly, Romania acceded to the EU in January 2007 and Hungary also became a member of the Schengen zone in December of the same year. So the fact that both countries had built a large number of new border posts on their common border (as Romania had also done on its frontiers with non-EU countries like Moldova and Ukraine) to coincide with their new status completely changed the dynamics of 'illegal' migration over that period, making it both more difficult to enter Romania and more likely that clandestine border-crossers would be caught. So who can in fact tell whether the statistics prove anything at all?

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